Paul Thomas Anderson said that he wanted 𝘐𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘝𝘪𝘤𝘦 to feel like a Neil Young song. In this case, I’d imagine this’d mean a little hippyish, innocently romantic, suspicious of the-powers-that-be, and of course, overwhelmingly nostalgic. Young’s Ambulance Blues would be my best comparison for its ticking all the above boxes, as well as its general structurelessness and considerable length.
𝘐𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘝𝘪𝘤𝘦 takes place in early 1970s L.A., the epicentre of the global social reform movement and a period of widespread distrust towards governing bodies, as Young epitomises in this sorrowful line from his aforementioned song: ‘I never knew a man who could tell so many lies, he has a different story for every set of eyes…’
𝘐𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘝𝘪𝘤𝘦 is the tale of a stoner P.I. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) looking for his “ex-ol’ lady”, who has become tangled up in a hazy conspiracy involving a black-power group; a fellatio-specialising, money-laundering brothel; a Jewish real estate mogul with a neo-nazi security team; a resurrected surf-saxist; a pedophiliac dentist; a maritime lawyer; a loony-bin; Indochinese drug traffickers; a communist-sympathising movie star; crooked cops; plenty of heroin; all tied together with horoscopic logic: a catalogue of absurdity which can only be compared to that one of its closest ancestors, The 𝘉𝘪𝘨 𝘓𝘦𝘣𝘰𝘸𝘴𝘬𝘪.
Like 𝘓𝘦𝘣𝘰𝘸𝘴𝘬𝘪, it has all the tropes of a film noir: a conspiracy plot which grows vaster and more perilous the more its scent is pursued; a femme fatale, of sorts, who alliances are unclear; and an in-over-his-head P.I. who seems to stumble into this mess by accident.
The plot is deliberately labyrinthine and incoherent, yet appropriately unapologetically silly too. We find ourselves constantly macheteing our way through a dense thicket of misinformation and preposterous circumstances, and just as Doc does, we feel similarly baffled by it all- which is the whole point.
Tarantino once likened his competitive relationship with P.T.A. to that of Brando and Clift: both were better because of the other’s competition. Though Tarantino mostly took care of this himself, 𝘐𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘝𝘪𝘤𝘦 renders 𝘖𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘜𝘱𝘰𝘯 𝘈 𝘛𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘏𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘺𝘸𝘰𝘰𝘥 child’s play in terms of recreating 70s Los Angeles, as this epoch has never been texturally reimagined quite like as it is here.
While we’re given the token paranoia and loss of innocence that we come to expect from 70s period films, 𝘐𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘝𝘪𝘤𝘦 handles so much more. The corrupt American class structure which is still present today, yet needed 70s hysteria to be illuminated, is so deftly realised: on one side, the inordinately wealthy and powerful, and on the other, the rest of us fumbling around in the darkness.
The film’s aptly soundtracked by the unintelligible babbling of a few tracks from CAN’s classic, 𝘌𝘨𝘦 𝘉𝘢𝘮𝘺𝘢𝘴𝘪, while accompanied by yet another knock-out, yet understated Greenwood score. The casting is so full of delightful surprises too.
Unrelentingly goofy, yet achingly poignant, and like so many of his films, Inherent Vice demands and rewards revisits.